RE-002 Betel Nut Tray Set
Chewing betel nut the mixture of areca nut and betel leaf is a tradition, custom, or ritual which dates back thousands of years in much of the geographical areas from South Asia eastward to the Pacific. It constitutes an important and popular cultural activity in many Asian and Oceanic countries, including Pakistan, the Maldives, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), China, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Palau, Yap, Guam, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. How or when the areca nut and the betel leaf were first combined into one psychoactive drug is not known. Archaeological evidence from Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines suggests they have been used in tandem for at least 4000 years.
Diamond Brand Aluminum bowl and cups, can be used in Ceremonies, serving dishes and many other uses. Diamond quality products are stamped aluminum with Thai design. Seven piece set, 1- Large bowl 9.5″ Diameter 4″ deep, 1- 10″ Diameter Tray engraved with Thai design, 4-3″ Diameter cups and lids, and 1- 2.5″ x 2.5″ cup.
It’s hard to find anyone under 70 years old who chews betel nut in Thailand, but for generations (some archeologists suggest it’s been used for over 4000 years) betel nut chew was part of everyday life for not only millions of Thais but also Asians throughout the region.
Scientists can describe in pharmacological terms the phenols & alkaloids, and other compounds of Mahk, which has very strong spicy flavor and also stimulates the brain & salivary glands. Looking through ancient Thai books, photos and royal archives always show this unique set–the “Chien Mahk” (shown at left, that set is belonged to our elderly aunt’s grandmother) as part of every household just as today you find a rice cooker, wok, & mortar and pestle. Yet today, it’s suddenly become extinct, as the new generation finds mahk old-fashioned and responsible for stained teeth. The spicy bai plu leaf is used in cooking various recipes but it’s days as a chew wrapper seem to be numbered.
Betel chew consists of three main ingredients: bai plu leaf (betel leaf) which is similar but not the same as the milder bai chaplu, used for miang kham, limestone paste (calcium hydroxide, made from baked sea shells) spread thinly on the leaf, and betel nut (areca nut) which grows in bunches similar to grapes. When combined these three things are an addictive stimulant which creates a feeling of strength, awareness, the eyes become wide awake and for some reason the saliva glands open up wider than ever–so the mouth literally pours out saliva (it turns red due to chemical reaction) which gives a cleansing sensation. The aroma is pleasant, a bit like menthol, and middle-aged Thais will tell you when they smell it they think of their grandparents. Many adults of today recall spending their days collecting the ingredients for their grandparents’ betel chew.
Around the time of King Rama V (200 years ago) the Thai government, in an effort to promote a more modern society, embarked on a campaign to stop the use of betel chew. It’s taken a long time but now (we wrote this article in 2007) we are about to see the end of this custom in Thailand as the final generation of betel chewers passes on. As a reminder of the importance of betel chew in Thai culture, many important Thai traditions of today such as weddings include the chien mahk. When new buildings are opened, usually the spirit house placed at the building has a chien mahk inside as well. Antique betel trays, especially those made of brass, are often found in showcases throughout Thai homes. This is one of the most treasured antiques among Thais today.
Mahk is usually made with the bark of a “si siet” tree, known in English as acacia (or acacia pennata) which grows wild all over Thailand. The bark is clipped with special scissors made just for that purpose and pounded up well into a fiber. Many people nowadays can tell stories about when they were kids, they’d pound the si siet bark for their grandmother’s betel chew. The bark does not add taste, but it acts as a binder to keep everything held together. Some people boil the bark until it’s reduced to a thick mud, set it to dry then form it into a golf ball-sized lump. This ball is then kept aside, and very small grains of this ball are added to the chew–the chemical compound of this turns saliva red.
Betel nuts are very strong and one person would not be able to chew on 1 whole nut in a day. The nuts are quartered, and set out in the sun to dry. After they’re dried, a family will tie the quarter nuts together in a necklace-type rope, and hang it in their house to use as needed. The dried center of the betel nut, called “Tahb Mahk (tahb also means liver) is used, and the dried outer shell “Pluek Mahk” is also used–usually a person uses one or the other, based on personal preference.
Another common ingredient in betel chew is “Plai”, known as zingiber cassumunar and touted as a soothing natural ingredient in cosmetics & lotions. Plai grows underground like ginger and it’s bright yellow.
Often tobacco is added to the betel chew. Depending on preferences, other spices are added as well. Everything is wound up together in the betel leaf and popped in your mouth to chew. Many older people pound it all up first and put it in their mouth without it being wrapped up in a leaf.